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Seeing "Compulsion" again after a very long time, it amazed me how well I remembered it. In fact I remembered every tiny little turn in Dean Stockwell's eyes. He is superb in the part of the young semi genius with a weakness for the shallow Bradford Dillman. The Leopold and Loeb case was the base for this thrilling Richard Fleischer film. It won acting awards for Stockwell, Dillman and Orson Welles at the Cannes Film Festival but with the benefit of hindsight, Dean Stockwell emerges as the winner against the famous test of time. Dillman seems a little bit too everything. Welles is great fun to watch and E G Marshall is terrific as the man determined to unmask the "powder poofs". Stockwell fainting at the trial, something that could have been so over the top, is in fact, shattering. The Leopold and Loeb story was also the base for Hitchcock's "Rope" and the wonderful Tom Kalin's "Swoon" Another version was rumored in 1991, directed by Martin Donovan with River Phoenix in the Stockwell part.
Watching this 1959 Richard Fleischer confirmed something I've always known. Dean Stockwell is a superb actor and an extraordinary presence on the screen. So, I think it's strange that he's not regarded as one of the greatest actors that ever lived. He started as a kid. He was Gregory Peck's son, twice. He was in musicals with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. He was directed by Elia Kazan. He made allegorical movies like "The Boy With Green Hair" directed by black listed Joseph Losey. He was Edmond in "Long Day's Journey Into Night" sharing the screen with Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson and Jason Robards. No to mention his work in "Sons and Lovers" or the movies with Wim Wenders and David Lynch. Here, in "Compulsion" his performance is worthy of an Oscar and in fact he go the accolades at the Cannes Film Festival sharing the acting honors with Orson Welles and Bradford Dillman. But, looking at it now he is the one that comes out as the one who passed in triumph the test of time. His performance is so rich so perfectly modulated that you go straight into the human center of his sick, appalling character. "Compulsion" deserves to be rediscovered and Dean Stockwell's performance should be the main reason.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1924 Nathan Leopold and his friend/lover Richard Loeb were two
wealthy young Chicagoans, from Jewish American families, who were
extremely well educated. Both were believers in the theories (somewhat
twisted) of Friedrich Nietzche regarding the idea of the superman. They
believed that supermen could regard certain laws as being only meant
for "little people", not supermen. One thing they felt they could
ignore was the criminal code...and this included murder. They decided
to commit a perfect crime for the thrill of it. They would kidnap and
kill a child, demand a large ransom, and leave a trail of clues that
would befuddle the police. To do this they did do some things that
showed careful planning (like stealing a typewriter so they could send
untraceable letters). Finally they kidnapped a cousin of Leopold, Bobby
Franks (age 14), killed him in their car, mutilated the body with acid
and knives, and hid him in a deserted park culvert. Unfortunately for
these two geniuses, Leopold dropped a pair of eyeglasses at the site
where Bobby was deposited. It was the eyeglasses that led the police to
Leopold and then Loeb, and the two supermen were fairly fast in caving
in and confessing. The criminal historian, Jonathan Goodman, once wrote
that if he ever planned to commit a murder and would ask infamous
criminals for advice, he would certainly choose Burke and Hare (the
Edinburgh body snatchers, who were not caught until they killed 16
people) over Leopold and Loeb.
They did not hang. Their families hired America's greatest attorney, Clarence Darrow, to defend them. He pleaded guilty for them, but requested a bench trial (just a judge) for the sentencing. His theory was that a jury would never be able not to divorce the cruelty of their actions from consideration of their punishment. For Darrow, a lifelong opponent of the death penalty, was unwilling to risk losing two guilty clients to public hatred.
He gave a classic discussion of the death penalty, and how it would not do what the public wished - stop further crime as a warning, and bring back (or closure to the family of)Bobby Frank. And the Judge did decide to not order the execution of Leopold and Loeb. They were sentenced to life plus ninety nine years (the sentence was later used as the title of Leopold's autobiography). But Richard Loeb was murdered in prison in 1936 (he made a homosexual advance on a fellow prisoner who slashed him to death - and was not punished for it). Leopold was released in 1958. He married, moved to Puerto Rico where he worked as a nurse, and died in 1971.
COMPULSION is based on a novel by Meyer Levin (a best seller in the late 1950s), that was based on the case, changing the names of Leopold and Loeb to Artie Strauss and Judd Steiner. The film only goes through the crime and the trial, culminating in the performance of Orson Welles as Jonathan Wilkes (a.k.a. Clarence Darrow). Dean Stockwell plays a sympathetic, confused Leopold (an issue among criminal historians - how really weak was Leopold - was he Loeb's sex slave?) and Bradford Dillman as a more aggressive Loeb. Martin Milner plays their college friend (and Leopold's rival for a girl in the class), who also finds the eyeglasses. E.G.Marshall is District Attorney Horn (and gives a very effective performance as an intelligent adversary of the two criminals as well as Welles). Diane Varsi plays the girl both Stockwell and Milner love. For some reason her performance is considered weak - actually while not fascinating it was more than competent.
The film does show the crime in it's aftermath (unlike the other film version of the Leopold-Loeb Case - ROPE - this movie does not the actual murder). It shows the increasing nervousness of Leopold, while Loeb keeps his cool (even "helping" the police investigation by suggesting some possible suspects of pedophile leanings). It is (unlike ROPE) shot as a period film, in the 1920s, but the film is in black and white - so the period costumes and accessories are not detracting from the action.
It is a well done film, but Welles appearance is only in the last half hour, culminating in the speech before the judge and his effective parting shot at Stockwell, who feels there is no God ("Perhaps it was God who made you drop your eyeglasses."). Welles performance of the speech was so effective that it was recorded on a record and was a best seller that year. And it is beautifully done.
But the film misses one point. Darrow did not win the sentence he sought by convincing the Judge of the impracticality of the death sentence. The Judge actually dismissed this argument of Darrow's. But Leopold and Loeb were under 21. He felt they were too young to be hanged.
It has been suggested that COMPULSION and ROPE could be shown together, but it would equally be possible to view COMPULSION with INHERIT THE WIND, to compare the performances of Welles with Spencer Tracy as Darrow/Henry Drummond in the latter film. There is also a peculiar type of movie loop in COMPULSION and INHERIT THE WIND. COMPULSION has a scene where Welles, is in his hotel room, when he sees some Ku Klux Klanners light a cross outside his window. In INHERIT THE WIND Tracy answers his hotel door room to see Gene Kelly (as H.L.Mencken/E.K.Hornbeck)wearing a hood and saying "Boo" as a joke. This is a reference to Darrow's agnostic/atheistic reputation, which was disliked by many people in his day. And early in INHERIT THE WIND when Kelly announces that Dick York (as Bertram Cates - John Scopes)will be defended by Tracy, one of the townspeople says, "He just got those two child-murderers off the other day."). It is rare for two films to have such mutual references in them, when they are not sequel films.
The film deal with two young men who murder a pal. They are law
students and followers of Nietsche theories . They are investigated by
an astute coroner (E.G.Marshall) . He's growing suspicion but there
isn't one perfect crime . But the justice to be executed and they go on
trial for killing . A famous lawyer (Orson Welles) will defend them
under accusation of murderers and under death penalty . A young
girl(Diane Varsi) will testify for them .
This highly interesting film is inspired on real events about Leopold-Lob killing case in Chicago of the 1920s . The film contains suspense , drama, tension , illicit love with intertwining triangles ,emotion , courtroom trial and complex intrigue maintained throughout. Besides superb performances by main roles ( Dillman, Stockell, Varsi, Welles ) and supporting casting ( Martin Milner, Robert F. Simon, Gavin McLeod among others ). Special mention to Orson Welles with a terrific acting and explaining a significant speech into criminal court . The movie is visually magnificent with an excellent black and white cinematography by William C. Mellor . Evocative and adjusted music by Lionel Newman . The motion picture is wonderfully directed by Richard Fleischer . Other versions about same events are the famous ¨The rope¨ by Hithcock with John Dall (in the character of Bradford Dillman )and Farley Granger (in the role of Dean Stockwell), ¨Swoon¨ and recently ¨Murder by numbers¨ by Barbet Schroeder with Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling . Indispensable and fundamental seeing for court genre enthusiasts and Orson Welles fans . It's one of Richard Fleisher's best. Rating : Above average .
If "Compulsion" is still such a powerful film is, totally, Dean Stockwell's merit. What a sensational actor! I'm writing this the day after the announcement of Dennis Hopper's death and while I was looking for a Dennis Hopper movie to watch a came across "Compulsion" Not Hopper but Stockwell and I settled for that anyway. I was riveted by Stockwell's performance because everyone else (with the natural exception of Orson Wells and E G Marshall) seems so dated and acted that Dean's every moment is sheer magic. He doesn't shy away from the awfulness but makes his young monster totally human, provoking in us that element that Orson Welles's closing argument tries to bring to the forefront. If you love great acting, you can't afford to miss Dean Stockwell in "Compulsion"
In 1924, in Chicago, the wealthy and psychotic nihilist law students
Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Arthur Strauss (Bradford Dillman)
believe that they can be above the law and commit minor infractions.
Their college mate Sid Brooks (Martin Milner) that works for the
Chicago Globe is assigned to go to the morgue to see a drowned boy
found in Hegewisch Park. He discovers that the boy is actually Paul
Kessler, the son of a millionaire that had been kidnapped for ransom.
Further, Sid discovers a pair of the glasses with the boy that becomes
a lead to the police since it does not fit the victim. When Judd finds
that his glasses are evidence for the murder case, he prepares an alibi
using his activity of ornithologist and tells that he was picking up
girls with Artie driving the Stutz Bearcat of his family. However the
astute District Attorney Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall) investigates the
case and lures Judd getting his confession. But the Steiner and Strauss
families hire the cunning defense attorney Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles)
to defend the perpetrators of the hideous crime. In the beginning of
the trial, Wilk surprisingly changes his plea from "not guilty" to
Movies of trial are usually engaging and "Compulsion" is not an exception. The dark story based on a true murder case is supported by magnificent performances, highlighting Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman in the roles of arrogant and psychotic millionaires that expect to commit a perfect crime and Orson Welles in the lesser but relevant role of a smart lawyer. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Estranha Compulsão" ("Strange Compulsion")
This was pretty interesting, thanks to Bradford Dillman who was
excellent as one of the murderers, and to Orson Welles, as defense
attorney "Jonathan Wilk." Wells could be such an imposing presence on
screen! Interesting, too, that his character was an atheist but in the
end admitted he may have been wrong about that.
E.G. Marshall also was fun to watch as the prosecutor, "Dist. Att. Harold Horn," but, of course, the screen writers had him silent in the end only showing Welles state his liberal impassioned anti-death penalty speech at the end.
Dillman and Dean Stockwell were the wise-guys, young arrogant punks who thought they were smarter than anyone else. Dillman held up under pressure but Stockwell was an annoying wimpy wuss who cracked. Diani Varsi playing the lukewarm love interest, adds very little to the film.
Overall, this re-telling of the famous Leopold-Loeb case of the 1920s was worth the watch and recommended. If this kind of story fascinates you, I recommend a similar film: "Rope" (1949).
"Compulsion" was one of the most important American films of the late
50s. Based loosely on the famous Leopold and Loeb case, the movie still
packs quite an impact because of the excellent work by the three
principals. As directed by Richard Fleischer, this is a disturbing look
at two criminal minds who thought they were above and beyond the law
because they had the perfect crime planned. The film was greatly
adapted for the screen by Richard Murphy from the Meyer Levin book and
Even for those clever enough to carry on a murder, there is always a possibility that a minor mistake will give the culprit away. The two young men at the center of the story, Judd Steiner and Artie Straus are homosexual lovers. At the time, being gay in America must have been one of the worst things in a more puritanical and pious society. These two men hide their sexual preference well because of the circles they both move. Coming from upper class families, in a way, made it easier for these men to formulate a plan to satisfy their idle existences.
After committing a heinous crime, just because they thought they could get away with it, the two friends begin experiencing the guilt associated with what they have done. Judd's reaction is different from Artie's. Where Judd tries to lay low, Artie tries to help the police in a bold move that will end up badly. Judd suddenly feels abandoned by Artie when he realizes Artie might be getting too close to the people investigating the murder.
As careful as these men had been, something that apparently seems innocent, ties them to the crime. The principal investigator, Sid Brooks, turns the men against one another by playing his cards right. This is the moment that Jonathan Wilk, the famous trial lawyer enters the picture. Unfortunately, even a star lawyer can't save people that have talked too much because they thought they were above the law.
Star lawyers have always been at the center of all famous trials throughout the history. In a way, it's ironic that only one man, the great Jonathan Wilk is the only person in court to defend Steiner and Straus. Had it been today, these two men would have had a battery of expensive lawyers making the case for them. The figure of Wilke is based on the real lawyer of the Leopold and Loeb case: Clarence Darrow, a man larger than life.
Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman made an invaluable contribution to the success of the film. Mr. Stockwell, a child actor that grew up in front of the camera, makes a compelling Judd Steiner. Mr. Stockwell gets under Steiner's skin because he seems to know what made this young man do what he did. Mr. Dillman was a relative new face to the movies, but his performance as Artie Straus has a profound effect on the viewer. Neither man makes a likable person, but maybe that was the message the author of the play wanted to leave the viewer with.
Orson Welles made a splendid appearance as the defense lawyer, Jonathan Wilk. Mr. Welles' physical presence dominates most of the court proceedings. In fact, is a tribute to his genius that he towers over everything around him whenever he is in front of the camera. E. G. Marshall has some good moments as Sid Brooks, the investigator who unearths the truth in this case. Ed Binns, Martin Milner, Robert Simon, Richard Anderson make contributions to the film. Diane Varsi, as the Ruth Evans is the only female that has an opportunity in the film.
The film moves at a quick pace and will, no doubt, satisfy those viewers seeking intelligent entertainment.
We can add Welles to Wilde, Monroe and others who we never respected until
they were gone. His pleading for the lives of those crazy boys (as Clarence
Darrow did) is an eloquent plea for the ending of the death penalty. Funny,
how a barometer like the death penalty tells us so much about a society's
relative civility. The US had backed away from it, but is now swinging back
toward even public executions (which I would much prefer, as they show all
of us how barbaric we have become).
Note that the movie dwells on their 'craziness' and 'richness', not the Jewishness or the homosexual relationships that evoked the wrath of the public in the real case. Both Dillman and Dean Stockwell do an excellent job of drawing out your anger until you find yourself one of the mob yelling for blood. To stem the tide, in comes Orson Welles. Welles' phrasing and meaningful looks struck me again with what a magnificent actor he was, as well as director.
Now I have to go read 'Compulsion', the novel around which this movie was made, to determine what was left out and if it would have contributed to some of the obviously omitted details that make this movie a little choppy. This movie performs the task that great art must take on itself: to provide us insights into life and how it should be lived. That can be done either negatively or positively, by point or counter-point.
Of course, unless you had some excellent writers and actors of the stature of Welles, you wouldn't come up to the quality of this movie. Definitely, black and white contributed to the brooding quality of the film. Color would have detracted, and you'll seldom 'hear' me say this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In many respects, I thought this was a movie that was far ahead of its
time. In some ways, it's a psychological study of why some people turn
to evil without any apparent remorse. It's also an anti-capital
punishment argument in a time when capital punishment was both accepted
and non-controversial. It deals with subject matters that I wouldn't
normally expect to see in a movie of this era, and it's a very taut
psychological thriller that wouldn't bore anyone.
Dean Stockwell, in my opinion, was the clear highlight of the film. He offered an amazing portrayal of Judd Steiner, the seemingly emotionless one of the murderous duo (the other was Bradford Dillman as Arthur Strauss.) Steiner and Strauss are basically rich, spoiled kids who decide to take up killing for the fun and excitement involved. The movie revolves around the investigation into the murder of a young boy, and then the trial of the two. Stockwell and Dillman made an interesting combination. In the beginning, Strauss is portrayed as the one in charge, with Steiner uncertain and nervous. By the end, Steiner is transformed into a hard as nails and cold as ice monster. The evolution of that relationship is fascinating.
There were aspects of the story that didn't work for me. Ruth (Diane Varsi) came across as far too forgiving of Judd after her encounter with him, and frankly, the rather long-winded speech by Orson Welles (playing attorney Jonathon Wilk) to the judge at the end of the movie was too long-winded, even though I agreed with some of it. (Modern studies of capital punishment would call into question Wilk's statement that only rich kids would die for this kind of crime; in fact, it's overwhelmingly the poor who are sentenced to death.) I thought the movie also opened with a musical score and what we would call today fonts for the credits that were entirely inappropriate, and which seemed to almost set this up as some sort of comedy. It's not. It's deadly serious, and very good. 7/10
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